Reason No. 1: A bad reason. Because it's a course requirement.
Reason No. 2: It's an interesting account of people living in conditions that many of us "know" about intellectually but not in our guts.That is, we think we understand poverty, hardship, crime, drug abuse,and the like. Yet, I often wonder if members of the middle class really do appreciate the pain and suffering of life in an inner city ghetto (or rural depressed area or any impoverished place). Thus, this is a fascinating account of a lifestyle most of us haven't and (I hope) will never experience.
But the book has importance for the course for other reasons.
Reason No. 3.: Nearly everyone has something to say about welfare, poverty, and
the proper solution to it. In my view many of these beliefs are quite simplistic. As an example, politicians love to say ending welfare dependency is a matter of changing behavior. If poor people would only clean up their acts, they could find jobs and live secure, satisfying lives. Note also the huge emphasis on "workfare," a plan being pushed by many policy makers, including President Clinton, Democrats, and Republicans who argue that in order to break the cycle of poverty we (the nation) has to force welfare recipients to work or at least obtain "training" and then accept a job. If these individuals don't agree, then they should be cut from the doles. A lot of you may feel the same way. In any event, it is a philosophy that underlies many welfare reform proposals that Washington and state governments have enacted in recent years.
But it seems to me that the book illustrates the fact that these homilies are more easily uttered than put in to practice. Consider the problems Layfette and Pharoh face: could an average politician deal with them any better. Or look at drug abuse. It's easy to talk about getting tough on crime and using mandatory sentences. But in reality how effective are these policies in a setting like the Horner project? The point is that the problems of the poor and underclass are easy to talk
about but difficult to solve in the real world. Hence, shouldn't we be suspicious of quick and cheap fixes such as declaring that welfare mothers will have to get jobs? Besides what jobs are there to get?
Reason No. 4: Here is a generalization I think the book supports. Government programs to help the poor are more often than not woefully underfunded and thus almost doomed from the start to fail. Consider public housing like the Horner project. Isn't one of Kotlowitz's points, made in the early chapters, that public housing was built "on the cheap" and inadequate to the task of housing the kinds of people it was intended to help? And isn't it also apparent that the project and social services in general are simply underfunded. Many social analysts make this point: programs, as expensive as they seem to us, do not receive sufficient financing or are administered in such a way that they can't do the job they are supposed to. Consequently, the public, which doesn't have the full story, thinks they are a waste of resources and wants to kill them. Given what little people know, it's hard to blame them for this feeling. But after reading There Are No Children Here we should better understand the nature of the problem. Ending poverty, homelessness, and the rest is going to take much more than half-hearted measures and campaign rhetoric: it's going to take lots of money.
Reason No. 5: the last dozen years have been and continue to be a time of "family values." Both political parties claimed that the key to solving many of the nation's problems was to strengthen the family. The book, though, suggests that talking about strengthening families is misquided in a couple of ways. For one thing, many people "down in the trenches" so to speak are working very hard at keeping together. For another it's much easier said than done. After reading There Are No Children Here, one wonders if the talk about improving families is directed at already secure groups rather than really designed to help correct a widespread problem.
Reason No. 6: Pluralists, who represent one school of thought about who governs, claim that obtaining political power in the United States is relatively easy. All one has to is be motivated by some grievance and mobilize resources to redress it. They make the process sound very simple. But pluralism's critics say that resources are unevenly distributed; that for all practical purposes some groups in society don't have access to them. Pluralism, these critics continue, works best for those in the middle to upper classes. People in the lower and bottom classes, like Koltowitz's children and their families, are so far down the ladder that talk of mobilizing resources and becoming a significant player in the group politics game seems hypocritical. In fact, pluralism simply legitimizes the existing distribution of power by saying, in effect, that if someone wants to do better, it is possible. But in fact it's not very easy.
Anyway here are a couple of sample questions.
If you've read the book you know immediately that a through c are all wrong: children of course live at the project. What the title indicates is that the deplorable, depraved, violent circumstances of their neighborhood robs them of their youth. (LaJoe made the point explicitly in the beginning.)
Again if you've read the book you'll know that the answer is a. This, in fact, is one of the most common forms of crime perpetrated by the youth.
A general reading will make this obvious.
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